INTERVIEW: The Almighty Johnsons Producer Simon Bennett

In this exclusive interview we chat with The Almighty Johnsons’  Simon Bennett  about Syfy’s latest show.

Where did the idea for Almighty Johnsons come from?

Outrageous Fortune, the comedy/drama series about a low-rent crime family (remade in the UK into ‘Honest’), was coming to an end after 6 seasons. TV3 approached the creators: James Griffin and Rachel Lang, looking for a new comedy/drama series that would appeal to a male audience, and like Outrageous Fortune, have a family at its centre.

And so The Almighty Johnsons was born. The fantasy elements were fairly incidental to the initial premise. The idea was to explore the dynamics of a family of brothers, dealing with the themes of love, sex, sexual politics and sibling rivalry in a non-PC and irreverent way. The idea of the brothers being incarnations of Norse Gods was a way of giving an original comic edge to themes of the show. Kiwi blokes tend to be a fairly apologetic bunch, and Kiwi blokes would be fairly crap at being Gods – this seemed a perfect way to give a fresh take on the themes the writers wanted to explore.

Initially there was some pressure to downplay the supernatural aspects of the show, as there was a perception that while NZ audiences could accept supernatural shows from the US and UK (Heroes and Misfits come to mind), they would struggle with the idea that Kiwi characters could have supernatural powers. The show also needed to work for a mainstream broadcast audience – it couldn’t afford to be ‘niche’, given NZ’s small population.

Fortunately Series 1 rated well, and a second series was commissioned. The success of the first season meant the writers could be more outrageous and less domestic with Series 2.

How would you sum up the show in an sentence?

Blokes, sibling rivalry and shagging, with a pinch of Norse mythology and a dollop of intrigue.

Were you aware of Norse mythology before the show?

I was aware of Norse mythology (who isn’t?), but my knowledge was limited to the Thor comics I read as a boy.

What do you think sets the show apart from similar shows on at the moment?

James and Rachel’s writing style: they are masters of irony, black comedy and the pithy one-liner. The characters are well-drawn, there is an irreverent and sometimes shocking sense of humour, and the plotting is unpredictable. There is also a very distinctively kiwi take on the world. The Almighty Johnsons is its own beast – it’s not trying to follow in the footsteps of any other genre show. More than being a fantasy show, it’s a contemporary sex comedy with blokes at the centre.

What audience are you aiming the show towards?

The show is designed for TV3’s audience, which is broad: All people 18 to 49. Whereas most drama is made with a female audience in mind, The Almighty Johnsons aims to capture male viewers as well.

What do you hope audiences take from the Almighty Johnsons?

I hope audiences will enjoy the comedy, care about the characters and want to find out what’s going to happen next.

What has been your favourite episode from the series to date?

This is a difficult question – the episodes are all so different. In Series 1 I particularly like Episode 6, which takes our characters on an away-trip into the rural heartland. The Gods and Goddesses fully interact for the first time, and we meet Thor. I also love episodes 9 and 10, which are a two-parter and drive us to a surprising cliffhanger ending for the Series

How difficult was it casting the roles of the brothers?

It’s always tricky casting the core characters for a new series. We were lucky in that we found a group of actors who get on well, and the brotherly dynamics that we were looking for were there from the get-go.

Have you had much feeback from the UK audience since its premiere on Syfy?

Quite a bit – mainly through Twitter. I eavesdrop on all the chatter. It seems to be going down well. We will never be able to compete with the big US shows as far as production values go because we don’t have the budget. The show is shot very quickly. However, I believe we do have clever writing and a strong and appealing ensemble cast – this cuts through and reaches audiences. There’s also an irreverent sense of fun that we have in making the show that translates well. Lashings of sex, nudity and bad behaviour help, too.

Why do you think Norse mythology doesn’t get as much attention as other traditions, for example; Greek mythology?

I have no idea. The stories are rich, varied and outrageous.

Who is your favourite Norse god or goddess?

Hard to say. I like Loki (Colin in TAJ). As the trickster God, he’s dangerous and playful and barking mad.

The Almighty Johnsons is currently showing on SyFy UK on Thursdays at 10pm

GS Reporter: Nuge

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